Counted Stitches

Crafts, Handlooms, Art

Counted Stitches: In Search of Kasuti

Tyabji, Laila

I first saw kasuti embroidery on one of Kamladevi Chattopadhyaya’s saree blouses. My father and she enjoyed a gently flirtatious relationship. By then most people treated her with the affectionate deference due to the grandmother of Indian craft, and she rather relished being reminded that he had first seen her wrapped in gold tissue and jewels on a tiger skin, acting in a verse drama of the 30’s. Kamladevi’s knowledge of Indian craft techniques was encyclopedic though not at all academic. For most people – even lovers of craft – the word kasuti, although it is one of India’s oldest embroideries, raises an enquiring eyebrow. Partly because it has never been commercially exploited, partly due to the rather stepmotherly treatment the crafts of North Karnataka (once part of Bombay State) are given by the Karnataka State Government. You are unlikely to find kasuti in CAUVERY, the Karnataka State Handicrafts Emporium, overflowing with the more opulent silks, ivories and marquetry of the southern Mysore State. But kasuti’s low profile image is also due to the gentle, reclusive nature of the women who craft it. Quite unlike the exuberantly entrepreneurial Gujeratis and Rajasthanis whose mirrorwork and satin floss embroideries floods the Janpath pavements and Surajkund Mela. Once seen, I was haunted by kasuti. It was such an elegant, subtle embroidery - the stitches geometr...
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